Justin Peck, 25 and a member of New York City Ballet’s corps, is responsible for one of the most spectacular choreographic debuts I have seen. He has been working on Year of the Rabbit – his second piece for City Ballet but the first to appear in the city – in bits and pieces, for workshops and student troupes, for two years. And it shows.
To a string orchestration of folkie Sufjan Stevens’ anomalous electronica album, inspired by the Chinese zodiac, the ballet balances demands which choreographers usually end up choosing between. With a small corps that serenades, magnifies, comments on and camouflages six soloists, Year of the Rabbit is both highly structured and playful, human and architectural, forthright in spirit yet sophisticated in form. The 40-minute ballet endears without being cute and surprises without ever feeling random. The choreography prickles with sharp, evocative shapes and whooshes with momentum. And it uses the classical lexicon mindfully.
You can feel the influence of Balanchine in the corps’ prominence and fluid design, and Ratmansky in their humanity. There is Wheeldon in the scaffolding of bodies, and even shades of modern dancer Mark Morris in the unabashedly straightforward musical wit. Still, the ballet looks like no one else’s. It bursts with so much brilliant invention that you want to cheer and cheer – and at the premiere people did.
Key to Peck’s fecundity, I suspect, is his willingness to start with the obvious. To an ethereal perpetuum mobile, Janie Taylor hypnotically unwound in Craig Hall’s arms like a twisted chain, then rewound. When the music swooped, the dancers swooped – but how! – the women swinging out from the men’s arms to scoot forward on their bottoms for several feet before coming to a standstill, bowed over their extended legs like flowers at night.
Rabbit revels in abrupt stops and reversals of direction. The dancers were scalloping in and out of the wings at one point when they suddenly dropped from view. They had plummeted to the floor to stretch out on their backs – hands behind head – and loaf.
Swinging and sliding, ringing round and falling down: Year of the Rabbit lends form to the play behind its creation, so even in sober moments it kindles joy.
Repeats October 13, www.nycballet.com